It feels important to talk about the last time i got it wrong.
And to be honest, this is very likely not even the last time, but it is a recent time that i am most aware of.
Panel of Whiteness
A couple of weeks ago, 2 August to be exact, so almost 3 weeks, i was invited to speak on a panel for the Global Business Round Table on a topic related to the Pandemic of Racism. i saw my friend, Nobuntu Webster, on the lineup and immediately signed up. Very excited to be working alongside her. We met fairly recently and just clicked and have similar passions in areas of Justice and Race. So that felt like a super easy one.
Two days before the panel conversation, another friend of mine, Dion Forster, who was also speaking on the panel, messaged me to see how i was doing and mentioned something about there being three white men on the panel of four. i immediately thought, ‘No ways, Nobuntu is on the panel…’ and rushed too my email where the poster designs for the event had just been dropped into an email. Sure enough, Nobuntu Webster and three [oldish] white men.
How did i miss that? It is an area i have spoken about a lot and one where i have challenged others on. Being aware of the whiteness of spaces we inhabit and visit. And i like to think i am really good about those kinds of things. But this was a blind spot. And i had gotten it horribly wrong. i have reasons in my own mind as to how i got there, but they are not important, because they are not good enough.
What to do?
The right thing to do two weeks aside would have been to have a quiet conversation with the organisers [most, if not all, who were not white making it even more nuanced and complicated]. To step aside and let them invite another black, coloured or indian speaker to take my place. But being two days before the event it felt like that would be an unfairly short amount of prep time for someone stepping in to the role.
i gave fellow panelist Nobuntu Webster a call and she helped me think through a couple of things, but ultimately it felt like the best decision in that space was to acknowledge it at the beginning of my talk. Own my failure and invite the audience to learn from something which can seem so small but in actual fact is such a big deal.
The talk seemed to go well and i have had some really positive feedback. But i can’t help feeling like a missed an opportunity there.
To listen to the talk, click here: [Password: 2*L4=1H6] – Bear in mind that it was given to a Christian audience from a specific faith perspective.
The reason i felt it might be helpful to share this in a blog post was for two reasons:
 To own it. i messed up. And no reasons or explanations or understanding of how it went down should reduce the impact of that at all. i got it wrong this time. And am upping my commitment to get this particular one more right as i love forward.
 To hopefully display some vulnerability. Trying to figure out this race stuff can be hard sometimes and the activist or online space is not always an easy place to get it wrong in. There is often not a lot of patience or grace and a whole lot of judgement. It is also often really complicated and nuanced and so getting it right in one space might not mean the thing in another. There is no manual that highlights every step of the way and so it takes constant learning and listening and paying attention and hard and often uncomfortable work to figure things out along the way. We need white people who will speak up when we get it wrong. Especially in the face of the defensiveness that we are so often greeted with. It is more than okay to get it wrong [which often doesn’t feel like the case] but it is not okay to do nothing!
As white people we need to own our crap more. Maybe that will help other white people enter these conversations. But at the same time there is a Tension that has to be recognised and acknowledged and held here. Because Urgency is so key. Some of my hugest criticisms for those who are calling for race work to be done at a pace that is comfortable for white people and invites them in rather than calling them out, is that we miss the absolute need for urgency [25 years too late already and counting!] Which is why i wrote this piece on ‘The Violence that lurks within Kindness’
The thing that made me second most sad about me getting this thing wrong is that no-one called me on it.
The moment i saw the poster constellation with Nobuntu Webster on top [thankfully] and then the three middle-aged white men underneath, it was so glaringly obvious to me. And i closed my eyes tightly as i waited for the backlash. For the pointing fingers. For the cruel or kind words. And they never came. One or two people i mentioned it to responded with, “Oh yes, I saw that!” but nobody told me: That is not okay!
That might be because people are afraid of me. Or my potential defensiveness. [Does anyone like being told they are wrong? i certainly appreciate it, but i don’t particularly like it. i really like getting it right!] Or because a lot of people just didn’t see it at all. Which makes this an area of learning for all of us.
Because as small as it may be [and i don’t think it’s small at all, really], in a country where white people make up around 9% of the population [and where the meeting turned out to be 70% or more black people i would suggest] the idea of having 75% of the so-called experts or people bringing the knowledge or seen as having the authority to speak is just not acceptable or right in any way.
We see that all the time in South Africa. And especially in church spaces. All-white conference speaker lists, all white panels. All male panels [because there is always intersectionality in this thing!] All white leaderships. All white boards. All white lists of CEOS and pastors and worship leaders and ‘experts’ and so on. It’s not okay. And we need to start noticing it more. And we need to change it!
i am not an expert at race things. But i am committed to listening and learning and doing everything i can to see this area which is in desperate need of Justice receive much more attention in my own life, and then in the lives of those around me. i am committed to interrogating systems and structures where it seems as if race is not balanced in any way and especially if it is leaning towards white and whiteness.
i am committed to being better tomorrow than i was today. And repeating that process until i die.
i hope that feels like something you can commit to. And i hope i can be someone that helps you [and is helped by you] in this journey we all have to continue on. With less defence, and more vulnerability. And much more learning from every time we do get it wrong.
When last did you mess up with regards to race things? What is your most recent blind spot that you were made aware of? And how did you respond?